Cllr Sam Webster, Covid Budget speech at Nottingham City Full Council meeting 05.10.20

It’s extremely disappointing that I’m having to bring forward an in-year emergency Covid budget at this time. My budget report to Full Council today proposes measures to deal with the costs of Covid to the Council in the absence of adequate Government compensation. 

Like many other Councils up and down the country, we’ve had no alternative but to take action now to plug the shortfall in Government Covid funding. 

I note that the Conservative – led LGA reported just last week that a funding gap of £5billion exists for Councils just to continue with services at today’s levels. My colleagues at other Core Cities, the biggest cities in the country outside London have been reporting eye watering funding gaps for the coming years.

We remain in the midst of an unprecedented event. A health and economic crisis the like of which none of us have seen before. 

It’s been a powerful reminder of what Councils, and by Councils I mean the people who work for Councils are here for: 

– to lead Nottingham and keep our city running
– to provide local public services, services upon which our residents and business either value or reply upon
–  to help people when they most need it.

This budget today is not just about what savings we’re making or what spending is reducing, it’s the response to additional costs of our services in recent months and a response to the loss of income, upon which we are now reliant. 

Thousands of key workers who work directly or indirectly for the Council have stepped up during this crisis. Care workers, community protection officers, bin lorry crews, park rangers, housing officers and many more. It’s thanks to them, in large part that we’ve come this far. 

I’m proud of the Council’s response, I’m proud of the people who work for the Council for stepping up. I’m proud of the response of our residents, our local businesses and charities. 

We still have a way to go, evidently difficult times ahead, but Nottingham will do what it does – people will help each other, businesses will fight to survive and the Council will be there for people when it’s needed. 

And my plea to Government relates to this point. 

In the coming months and years local public services will be needed more than ever.  We have a job to do to help our city through, on health – on employment, on housing, on community cohesion, on recovery. We have a job to do and we need the resources to be able to do that job well. 

So I make one clear call to Ministers in Government – honour the pledge that was made to “stand shoulder to shoulder” with Councils – compensate us in full for the costs of the Covid response – as was promised. 

Covid has impacted the health and wellbeing of Nottingham people, the people we all represent.

Covid has impacted the financial and economic wellbeing of Nottingham.  

Thousands of our residents are experiencing lower earnings or have lost their jobs altogether. Unemployment is up 110% over the past year. 

Many people are struggling to keep a roof over their head and many businesses in our ciy are fighting for survival or have already gone under. 

This is an extremely challenging set of circumstances and it’ll be essential that we have the resources we need from Government to support people and aid recovery.  

The context of this report today, which proposes £12.5m of budget reductions is set out in section 3 of the report and I quote. 

3.1 The City Council has been operating in a difficult financial environment due to insufficient Government funding for many years – has made cumulative budget savings of £271M since 2010. 

3.4 Whilst the Government initially promised that it would fully support local government for Covid-19 the additional funding to date has been insufficient. This underfunding leaves the Council with a shortfall of £38.6M. 

By law we must deliver a balanced budget. 

Many people have asked me what is driving the additional costs for the Council, so I wanted to pick out some of the biggest cost or lost income areas. 

  • PPE costs £5.5M
  • Additional funding to care providers £4.5M
  • Leisure centres lost income £5M.

We’ve instigated a number of measures to deal with the current shortfall in Government funding. 

  • Vacancy freeze 
  • Ban on non-essential spending 
  • Consultation on a range of budget savings as set out in the 22nd September Executive Board report.

And a one off use of reserves to cover the remaining funding gap

As you might expect Lord Mayor when taking these decisions we have sought to protect front line services and those services upon which our most vulnerable residents reply on. 

We have consulted widely, receiving 232 responses during the consultation period. 

We have allocated reserves to minimise the impact at this time and we have defended key public services – core services for vulnerable children & older people, parks & leisure centres and kept free universal services such as bulky waste collections, free garden bin collections and 2 free resident car parking permits. 

We will continue to lobby to Government for the compensation our City was promised.  

Cllr Sam Webster
Labour and Co-operative Party, Castle Ward
Portfolio Holder for Finance, Growth and City Centre